It’s Round 23 of Super League action this weekend, with two games being shown live on Sky Sports, a re-run of the Challenge Cup final and a battle of the current top two.
Salford Red Devils v Wakefield Trinity (Friday, 7.45pm)
Victory at Huddersfield last Friday night made Salford ‘the masters of their own destiny’ in the play-off race, as boss Paul Rowley discussed with Love Rugby League yesterday.
He sticks with an unchanged squad for this Friday’s visit of Wakefield, including the all-important individuals in the spine with Ryan Brierley speaking to us earlier this week.
Visitors Wakefield, in contrast, suffered a damaging defeat to relegation rivals Castleford on home soil last Friday live in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
It’s left them two competition points behind the Tigers with just five games remaining, and Trinity also have an inferior points difference.
Mark Applegarth has made just one change to his squad from that defeat though, and it’s a Frenchman for a Frenchman as Romain Franco returns in place of Hugo Salabio. Despite rocky starts to life at Belle Vue, the pair are both with Trinity until the end of the season, as confirmed by the boss last month.
Salford: Brierley, Sio, Watkins, Lafai, Burgess, Croft, Sneyd, Ormondroyd, Ackers, Vuniyayawa, Dixon, Stone, Partington, Atkin, Addy, Sidlow, Bourouh, Hellewell, Greenwood, Cross, Singleton
Wakefield: Jowitt, Lyne, Lineham, Lino, Battye, Hood, Whitbread, Ashurst, Pitts, Kay, Bowden, Atoni, Proctor, Eseh, Dagger, Senior, Gale, Croft, Fifita, Franco, Griffin
Prediction: Given that Wakefield haven’t picked up a point away from home yet in 2023, it’s hard to see that changing going to a resurgent Salford side on the back of the most crushing defeat of the season. The Red Devils by 24 for me.
Castleford Tigers v St Helens (Friday, 8pm)
The only negatives for Cas from that win at Wakefield last time out were the early withdrawals of Nathan Massey and Jack Broadbent through knocks.
Boss Danny Ward has confirmed that neither of the two injuries are as bad as first feared, but are enough to force the duo out of the squad for St Helens’ trip to the Jungle on Friday night. Youngster Brad Martin and Will Tate are the two to replace them in the 21.
Saints also head into the Round 23 clash on the back of a win having seen off Hull KR, and head coach Paul Wellens opts not to change a winning formula, sticking with the same 21 players from last time out.
Matty Lees will serve the second and final game of his ban, while Konrad Hurrell stepped up his comeback from injury with a return to training this week. Both of those should be back in contention next week.
Castleford: Eden, Turner, Widdop, Miller, Lawler, Griffin, Edwards, Mellor, Westerman, Matagi, Marti, Wallis, Hall, Watts, Tate, Johnstone, Foster, Tsikrikas, Tasipale, Horne, Austin
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Percival, Bennison, Lomax, Dodd, Roby, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Bell, Norman, Davies, Royle, Baxter, Ritson, Foster, Delaney, Bruines, Mbye
Prediction: I do believe Saints will get the job done at the Jungle, you’d have to expect them to. I think it’s going to be a closer-run affair than most would expect though with it being Danny Ward’s first home game in charge, and the Tigers fans perhaps getting behind the side more vocally than in recent times. Saints by 8, for me.
Hull KR vs Leigh Leopards (Friday, 8pm, Sky Sports Action)
Less than a fortnight ago, KR and Leigh played out an absolute blinder of a Challenge Cup final under the arch at Wembley, the first ever to go to golden point extra time with the Leopards eventually reigning supreme and lifting the silverware.
Both were, perhaps unsurprisingly, comfortably beaten on their return to Super League action, with KR going down to Saints and Leigh losing out at home to leaders Catalans.
The pair meet for a fourth time this season on Friday night live in front of the Sky Sports cameras, and Willie Peters makes just one change to his squad. Elliot Minchella returns having served the one-match ban he picked up for his yellow card offence in the final against the Leopards, wiping out Ben Reynolds with a late hit.
Reynolds is going to be sticking around at Leigh, as boss Adrian Lam told Love Rugby League earlier today. The Leythers chief names another unchanged squad for their second trip to Craven Park this season.
Hull KR: Ryan, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall, Hall, Parcell, King, Linnett, Minchella, Litten, Kennedy, Batchelor, Storton, Keinhorst, Lewis, Milnes, Hadley, Senior, Luckley, Aydin, Walker, Schneider
Leigh: Hardaker, Briscoe, Chamberlain, Charnley, Mellor, Lam, Amone, Ipape, Mulhern, Wardle, Hughes, Asiata, Nakubuwai, Reynolds, Holmes, O’Brien, Davis, O’Donnell, Wilde, Seumanufagai, Gildart
Prediction: Two of the three meetings between these clubs so far this season were corkers, both tight affairs, with the other a dominant home performance from Leigh in which KR never really got off the bus. Lam’s men have won all three meetings, but I’m tipping the Robins this time around, fuelled by the emotional energy of their Wembley defeat. Peters’ side by 7.
Hull FC v Warrington Wolves (Saturday, 3pm)
This is the first game of the weekend involving two teams who aren’t really certain of their play-off place, and are still fighting to cement a spot in that top six, with that battle necessary due to two horrific runs.
Hosts Hull have struggled for consistency, winning three Super League games on the bounce just once. They’d already have a top six spot booked if they hadn’t gone on a seven-game losing streak between mid March and April which left them lagging behind.
Tony Smith’s side head into Saturday’s clash with Warrington on the back of another poor defeat, losing in golden point to Wigan after throwing away a lead late on. He makes three changes to his squad, with captain Carlos Tuimavave banned following that loss, Ligi Sao continuing his recovery from a knee injury and and Danny Houghton failing a HIA at the DW Stadium.
Brad Fash returns having served a one-match suspension of his own, while Jamie Shaul and Nick Staveley also come into the 21.
Visitors meanwhile have now lost eight on the bounce, and are trying to cling onto a play-off spot, now level on points with some of those just outside. They had won their first eight this year, and sat top for a long time.
Interim boss Gary Chambers has opted to drop Gil Dudson from his 21-man squad for their trip to West Hull. Joe Bullock, who hurt his thumb in the reserve game at Headingley having been named as the 18th man for the first team, also won’t be involved. Adam Holroyd is the other to drop out, with Sam Kasiano and Greg Minikin back in the fold alongside Luke Thomas.
Hull FC: Swift, Sutcliffe, McIntosh, Trueman, Clifford, Satae, Savelio, Lane, Fash, Lovodua, Cator, Scott, Brown, Litten, Barron, Gardiner, Shaul, Taylor, Staveley, Dwyer, Jebson,
Warrington: Ashton, Clark, Crowther, Currie, Drinkwater, Dufty, Harrison, Hayes, Kasiano, Mata’utia, Mikaele, Minikin, Nicholson, Philbin, Ratchford, Thewlis, Thomas, Vaughan, Walker, Williams, Wrench
Prediction: I’m going with Hull on this one, with genuinely the main reason being where the game is taking place. Wire are in horrific form, the Black and Whites not quite so bad, and I think home advantage will count. This will be the weekend that sees Warrington drop out of the top six. FC by 12.
Catalans Dragons v Wigan Warriors (Saturday, 6pm, Sky Sports Arena)
The second televised game of the weekend sees 1st go up against 2nd as Catalans – who officially secured their spot in the play-offs with their win at Leigh last Saturday – welcome Wigan to Perpignan.
Next up on the radar for the Dragons will be the League Leaders’ Shield, and a win against the team directly below them would be a big step towards ticking that box. Boss Steve McNamara makes just one change as Siua Taukeiaho – who will leave at the end of the year – returns to the squad in place of Matthieu Laguerre.
Ex-Warriors hooker Michael McIlorum is free to play against his former club having successfully appealed against a ban he was hit with following their victory against the Leopards.
One change is also made by the Cherry and Whites for their trip abroad as Kaide Ellis returns from a one-game suspension served in last week’s win against Hull FC. Iain Thornley is the man to drop out of the 21 for Matt Peet’s men.
Catalans: Mourgue, Davies, Keighran, Yaha, May, Pearce, McMeeken, McIlorum, Bousquet, Whitley, Seguier, Garcia, Da Costa, Goudemand, Navarrete, Chan, Romano, Taukeiaho, Johnstone, Ma’u, Tomkins
Wigan: Field, French, King, Wardle, Marshall, Cust, Smith, Powell, Byrne, Farrell, Smithies, Ellis, Pearce-Paul, Shorrocks, Mago, O’Neill, Miski, Hill, Nsemba, Hampshire, Dupree
Prediction: The Dragons just look relentless this year, I’d argue they’re a better side than the one which one the LLS and got to the Grand Final in 2021. On home soil, only Warrington and Castleford have beaten them this year, and I’d back them against pretty much anyone in the competition now, even an ever-developing Wigan side. The Dragons by 8 in this one.
Huddersfield Giants v Leeds Rhinos (Sunday, 3pm)
The last game of the weekend sees a West Yorkshire derby as Leeds make the short trip across to the John Smith’s Stadium to take on Huddersfield in a game where both sides must win to keep their play-off hopes alive.
Ian Watson opts not to make any changes to his 21-man squad from their 32-8 defeat to Salford on home soil last Friday night. They also conceded 32 points in defeat to St Helens the week prior, and are now four points outside the top six. If that margin becomes six outside with eight left to play for after this weekend, it’s curtains.
Contrastingly, Leeds head across the county on the back of a crucial win against Warrington, but they’re forced into three changes from that triumph.
James McDonnell has a back injury, Corey Johnson was forced off in the game against Wire, and Papua New Guinea international Nene Macdonald has returned home to Australia this week to attend the birth of his child, so he also won’t be involved against the Giants.
Morgan Gannon returns to fill one of those three spots, he’s also been injured recently. Winger Liam Tindall comes back into contention for selection, and the squad is completed by youngster Alfie Edgell, who has impressed for the club’s reserves recently. The full-back turned 19 only last month.
Huddersfield: Milner, Hill, McQueen, Marsters, Connor, Ashworth, Bibby, Greenwood, Naiqama, Cudjoe, English, Peats, Russell, Wilson, Halsall, Hewitt, Ikahihifo, Lolohea, Fages, Pryce, Yates
Leeds: Fusitu’a, Newman, Handley, Sezer, Oledzki, Bentley, Martin, Smith, O’Connor, Lisone, Olpherts, Holroyd, Gannon, Hooley, Walters, Tindall, Roberts, Donaldson, Sinfield, Ruan, Edgell
Prediction: I was surprised by how poor Huddersfield were last week, and in truth, I’m surprised boss Watson hasn’t made changes to his squad. Neither of these two are going to trouble anyone in the top six if either do get there, and Leeds will miss Macdonald especially, but I think the Rhinos will keep their hopes alive with an away win, I’ll go for them by 8.